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Council shoots down city parkade
Council votes against relaxing zoning bylaw requirements for developers

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 12, 2013

City hall's goal of building its own multi-storey parkade to ease downtown's parking crunch without taking up more land for parking space received a setback Monday, after a majority of city councillors rejected several bylaw amendments to fund it.

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City councillor Adrian Bell voted against easing parking requirements for developers during a council meeting Monday night. He argued that changes to the city's off-street parking requirements should not be made without considering improvements to on-street parking. He is also worried that easing requirements for developers would hurt small businesses in the short term. - Cody Punter/NNSL photo

The city's zoning bylaws currently state that developers must provide a minimum amount of parking depending on the size and function of the development being built. There are provisions in the bylaw that allow for developers to opt out of the requirements by paying cash-in-lieu to the city.

Four proposed amendments to the city's zoning bylaw would have relaxed existing zoning requirements for developers, thereby making it more attractive for them to build new developments while raising more cash for city coffers.

One of the proposed amendments decreased the cash-in-lieu amount a developer has to pay for not building required parking space to one times the value of the parking stall and its associated development costs, down from 1.5. For example, if a parking stall were to cost a developer $5,000 to build but didn't want to build it, they would have to give the city $7,500 not to build it under the current bylaw.

Another amendment proposed increasing the maximum cash-in-lieu limit of the required parking for developers to 50 per cent, up from 25 per cent meaning, if the amendments had been approved, developers would only be required to build half the required lots, providing they paid the city the cash required not to build them.

While those amendments would have decreased the amount of parking being offered in the downtown area in the short term, administration proposed to use the cash-in-lieu revenue toward building a multi-storey parking facility.

According to Jeff Humble, director of planning and development, there are currently no plans in place to build a parking structure, although the idea has been discussed by the city's Smart Growth Implementation Committee.

"It's the seed of an idea that makes perfect sense, it's just how then do we make it a reality," said Humble.

Couns, Cory Vanthuyne, Dan Wong and Bob Brooks, who is the chair of the Smart Growth Implementation Committee that came up with the recommendations, voted in favour of the amendments, but they were outvoted by Couns. Niels Konge, Phil Moon Son, Rebecca Alty, Linda Bussey, and Adrian Bell.

Bell said he is in favour of using funds from cash-in-lieu payments by developers aiming to opt out of parking requirements toward building a city parking facility. However, he worried that the time it would take to accumulate the funds to build such a facility would lead to an increase in demand for on-street parking in the short term.

He said decreasing off-street parking requirements for developers would have the greatest negative impact on businesses in the downtown area.

"My real concern here is small business," said Bell.

Bell warned that changing the bylaw requirements without considering the effects it might have on small businesses would have long-term consequences.

"You can build a house with tiny closets and you may be making the case that people should make do with fewer clothes but at the end of the day you end up with a house that is not really functional for people," said Bell.

"At the end of the day, we need a model that is functional for all these stakeholder groups, including businesses."

Although amendments to the zoning bylaw were voted down, council voted in support of changing its development incentive program by offering a one-year tax exemption for developers that incorporate underground parking into new developments.

According to Humble, the initiative will give an incentive for businesses to provide more parking, without wasting valuable space.

Humble pointed out that 40 per cent of the "downtown's buildable" area is currently used for parking.

He added that if downtown development continued at its current pace, 50 per cent of the downtown would be used for surface parking.

"We want more development downtown," said Humble. "What we're saying is that surface parking is not a great thing."

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